Wednesday, March 25, 2009

John Carmack on iPhone development: Wolfenstein 3D Classic

I always enjoy reading a good Carmack tale of software development. One of these should go in Joel Spolsky's next Best Software Writing collections.

[NB: By the way I'm talking about the Carmack who is a videogame developer (You've heard of Doom? Quake?) not Carnac the Magnificent or Cormac the author. Cormac is, like Carnac, also magnificent, but not with a capital M.]

Here, John talks about bringing Wolfenstein 3D to iPhone.

Wolfenstein 3D Classic:
Rather than having a big confrontation over the issue, I told them to just send the project to me and I would do it myself. Cass Everitt had been doing some personal work on the iPhone, so he helped me get everything set up for local iPhone development here, which is a lot more tortuous than you would expect from an Apple product. As usual, my off the cuff estimate of "Two days!" was optimistic, but I did get it done in four, and the game is definitely more pleasant at 8x the frame rate.
And I had fun doing it.
....this was the first time I had taken full responsibility for an entire product in a very long time.
This next bit is a realization that more app designers need to have. It's all about what the user wants to do. Don't make me sit for your program to load. Fer cryin' out loud, Sidekick taught us this lesson! (No, THIS SideKick, not THAT Sidekick.)
There is definitely something to be said for a game that loads in a few seconds, with automatic save of your position when you exit. I did a lot of testing by playing the game, exiting to take notes in the iPhone notepad, then restarting Wolf to resume playing. Not having to skip through animated logos at the start is nice. We got this pretty much by accident with the very small and simple nature of Wolf, but I think it is worth specifically optimizing for in future titles.
Apple's interface guidelines do practically beg developers to take this perspective, not just as a feature to implement, but as a design philosophy.

Perhaps the best quote of the article is the last line:
...I do expect Classic Doom to come fairly soon for the iPhone.

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